While WINGS of Rotary (WINGS) is not a new Rotary program, this was our first exchange since the pandemic. In general, an inbound team of usually two team leaders and 6-10 high school students from Japan visits us here in Rotary District 5750 for two weeks in March and then an outbound team of the same size visits Japan in Rotary District 2520 for two weeks in June. But it is so much more than that!
My husband, Jay, (Midtown OKC Rotarian) and I lead a (wonderful) team of 6 high school students to Japan in June. We also had the pleasure to host two of the inbound students from Japan. I know it is cliche to say but WINGS has been life-changing for us. What is so interesting is that I thought coming home from Japan would be the end but really it’s just the beginning. But first…
What is WINGS?
Although the all-caps name would normally indicate WINGS is an acronym, it is not. It describes the experience of Rotarians and selected high school students to spread their wings to cross cultures seeking and finding peace. For over 40 years, our district has partnered with sister Rotary District 2520 in Japan. This is a friendship exchange, a cultural study exchange, and truly a chance to really see Rotary and its people in action.
Our Experience in Japan
Giant hydrangeas, sumo wrestling, soba noodle challenge, hiking, drums, temples, castle ruins, conveyor belt sushi, folklore of dragons and kirin, yukata and wooden shoes, wasabi ice cream (it was delicious), an earthquake, soul-shaking tribute to the last big tsunami, giggles, apron dying, karaoke, onsens, being on the news (several times), sunrises at 4 am, samurais, coastal boat experiences, dancing, Rotary pin exchanges, natto, chopsticks, (too small) slippers, anime, art, beer, sake, family style dining, four-wheeling, fortunes, and one psychic reading (for me only). If I told you all we did each day, you might not believe it.
No matter how prepared we thought we were or tried to be, we were absolutely not prepared for this experience on so many levels. That is not a slight at all to those who spent countless hours getting us ready (Thank you, Keith Oehlert! And Evan and Heather Walter and so many others!); I believe this demonstrates the value of going out and doing something instead of just reading about or watching it.
We eat differently, sleep differently, spend time differently, shop for groceries differently, drive differently, and so many more aspects of life are just different. Because of that fact, we have a ton of stories! But beneath all of the differences, there is a commonality that overrides it all: We instantly connect because we share the same values of being people of action striving to create lasting change – across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves.
I hope you will avail yourself to this next exchange by answering the call to host students, drive the team around, invite them to see where you work, join the WINGS committee, and/or get the word out to high schoolers you know to apply for this next year’s team.